This year I have been asked to speak at Humber College’s Adweek symposium along with industry peeps like Cam Wykes, Ignacio Oreamuno and Barry Quinn. The question to be addressed: “What does an advertising agency look like in 2020?”
Admittedly, the question has me in new territory. While I have never shied away from making short-term predictions, I prefer to make suggestions or play the skeptic. Personally, I don’t believe anyone can accurately predict where technology or social trends will head in the long term. Chaos theory dictates that emergent phenomena, like the Internet or social media, cannot be predicted or replicated (thanks Jason Theodor!)
All that being said, what we can do is examine the factors that can and will likely have a profound effect on our industry over the next decade.
Convergence is the ongoing process of all media amalgamating into one large complex channel. The most apt example of this is ubiquitous access to media through any number of devices. At any given time, I can surf the web, watch TV and movies, listen to the radio, and communicate and read through my computer, mobile device or game console. The combination of channels will be, in my opinion, the final step to the digital space’s being fully integrated into agency models and culture. Agencies that embrace this will be giants – and not of the dinosaur variety.
I’ve made no mystery of how I think social media is shaping marketing territory. Customers still want to consume all types of advertising, as long as it is compelling and provides them with some value. But customers also want to be part of the conversation. They want to feel as if they have influence over the brands they love.
I anticipate the rise of community management. Whether people are called social media experts, community managers or social strategists, agencies will need to ensure their offices are staffed with people who understand how brands can talk with their consumers.
Generalists on top
A few months ago I wrote a post titled “A prescription for a new agency” in which I defended the role of both generalists and specialists in the new world order of agencyland. Generalists understand their client’s business needs on a creative and strategic level, and also have a broad understanding of all the channels available to communicate with the consumer. Specialists will have an expert knowledge of key channels, as well as an understanding of how the latter plug into the larger campaign. Generalists can “diagnose” the client’s objective and refer to the proper specialists to execute against it.
At this point I feel it disingenuous not to mention Ignacio’s Giant Hydra model, in which generalists make up the core of the agency, supported by a larger network of skilled and proven specialists. In this case, specialists are not permanent members of the core agency, which makes it quite flexible. Giant Hydra can tailor its teams based on each client ask. While not questioning the viability of this model, I’d question its ability to maintain the depth of brand affinity that comes from consistency and permanence.
Master Yoda aside, no one can predict the future. But I’m prepared to wager an educated guess that the biggest challenge agencies will face is adapting to growing collaborative models. Any agency that doesn’t want to believe that creatives can think strategically, producers can think creatively and client service personnel can think productively, is missing the boat. My hope is both for a decline in “discipline-based” hires and an upsurge in finding the smart and curious and resourceful. I feel pretty well poised in my own agency for that.